Ep 28. Creating opportunities in rail through apprenticeships, Neil Robertson

Our rail workforce is getting older. That is no secret across the industry. It is a growing challenge, one which needs to be addressed immediately, and one which requires significant investment into the new and young generation of rail workers.

Significant efforts need to be made to encourage more young people to see rail as a valuable potential career path, in particular highlighting the range of roles seen within rail – which can include everything from your traditional engineers and train drivers through to those with data skills, customer-facing and commercial roles, lawyers and much more.

Organisations like the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR) are heavily involved in driving this perception change of rail, encouraging and supporting more young people to join the industry.

With many of those older members of the industry leaving highly-skilled or specialist roles too, there is often a lengthy lead time for training. As such, it’s vital that work starts on recruiting the new generation now, and from the largest talent pool possible.

NSAR’s Chief Executive Neil Robertson explained: “Teachers are a big opportunity because teachers are keen to give kids good advice, but they don’t know any more [about rail careers than the students].

“What we want to happen is more outreach. The big companies already do it, but we want to have more systematic outreach into schools. Teachers are a big market for us to focus on.

“So are parents. One of our key routes is apprenticeships and parents like apprenticeships – they like apprenticeships and university – but they can think of rail as a bit old fashioned, a bit dirty and a bit dangerous. [They may see it as] probably not a place to encourage their daughters to go into.

“Of course, their daughters will be made to feel extremely welcome. We’ve done a lot of work on our culture and diversity, so it’s time to tell those stories to parents as well to change parents’ minds.

“That’s the hardest bit at the moment, so our strategy is to build the website, get the materials, then start increasing the outreach to schools and young people. Then the next stage is how we can get to parents.”

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